Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Criminal Justice Reform Made Simple: Call a Bail Agent!

It was just an ordinary late summer afternoon in the East Texas town where we lived. About twenty five years ago it's been now. I was driving home from just another pleasant day in my small law office, not a half mile from home. Not in a hurry, not in violation of the neighborhood speed limit, no other traffic that I recall. Then that sound that one can't mistake - the loud "Whoop, Whoop!" of a police cruiser. I looked in the rear view mirror, and  yep, cop car with lights flashing. "What the .....?" Of course I pulled over. Of course I rolled down my window. Of Course I asked the officer, "What's wrong? Was I speeding." He politely informed me that I had rolled through a stop sign back at Broadway. Showed the license and the registration certificate so he can go call in the stop. Dang it! A ticket, for sure. And insurance rates going up to boot.

Worse. Lots worse! He comes back and asks me to get out of the car. Another cruiser rolls up. I'm told there is an open warrant for my arrest for non-payment of an earlier speeding ticket. "But I paid it!" Not according to the warrant. To jail I go. The usual book-in procedure. I was told what the bail was according to the local bail schedule. I got my phone call.

OMG! Call a bail agent! Get me out of here! The good news was I knew a bail agent. The bad news was the bail agent was my wife. She came, she posted the bail and then took me to get my car. In other words, my wife the bail agent put up my bail which she would have forfeited had I not taken care of the charges against me. Not too much said at the supper table. I went on to dispose of the problem in the most expeditious manner. Not near as big a deal as it would have been if I could not have called a bail agent.

That story repeats itself thousands of times every week across our country. The personal identities differ. The places of arrest differ. The nature of the charges differ, but the key elements are the same: a person is placed into pretrial custody upon reasonable suspicion of having committed an offense against the community, but staying incarcerated until trial is not required under the law here where we live. Call a bail agent!

The most fundamental law of our land assures us that, except in very rare circumstances, merely being accused of having committed a crime does not deprive one of present time liberty. That's because we have a right to place a fair and reasonable security up with the court to assure that we will return to court for disposition of the matter. Call a bail agent!

The program is not only expeditious, it is effective. The bail agent will see to it that the person charged is in court for a fair conclusion of the matter. The community's right to have the issue fairly resolved is assured. As is the interest of any victim involved. Call a bail agent! And so is the right of the accused to be fairly treated in the process. Call a bail agent! And if, in fact, the accused does skip out on the court date the bail agent will retrieve that person to custody. Call a bail agent!

What if no bail agent is required and the person is simply released without any type of security being put up? Lots of studies have been done in finding the correct answer to that question. And the answer is very simply that many of those people just never go back to court. That means, of course, that the better interests of the community, the justice system itself as well the victim go unserved. Call a bail agent!

When you boil it all down, utilizing the bail agent provides not only a service to the justice system, as well as the community and the victim, but in the long run it can be in the best interest of the accused himself or herself. How can that be? It's pretty simple really: putting the bail agent into the mix assures that the accused will have to bear the responsibility for any wrong he has committed. Having his case properly concluded with his having to face up to what he has done, just may be the single most important event in his life. It may be that place where he changes course. Religious people call it "repenting", and maybe that's what it is because the word "repent" means to "make an about face", to turn around from the direction one is traveling and start on another course. People who have spent much time in the bail business have seen it happen more than a few times. Call a bail agent!

But when you take the bail agent out of the picture, are you sending a wrong message to the accused? Are you, in fact, sending him the message that you don't take very seriously the charges against him? And do you do this for him by placing at jeopardy the better interests of all of the other parties involved? How could one really argue otherwise in light of all those credible studies showing that when persons released before trial have their release secured they are not only much less apt to skip out on court but also much less apt to commit another offense and thereby escalate the number of crime victims in the neighborhood? Call a bail agent!

There are those in our country today who say: "But it's not the accused's fault that he did what he did. It's society's fault! It's our fault! He is but the innocent victim and his wrong acts proves it! We let him down by allowing his neighborhood to be such that it encourages crime." Or: "We failed him by allowing his rearing to be by a young unwed mother with five other children so that he had no proper parental supervision." Or: "We did not fund enough programs to ensure that he would not be under the influence of a poverty-laden, drug-ridden environment."

And on and on and on the litany goes of: "It's all our fault, not his, and therefore we cannot make him arrange for being released pretrial in a secured, and therefore safe, manner. Since we did this to him, how can we make him call a bail agent!"

Followed to its logical conclusion, what they're really saying is that it's time we took that accused to raise now, since we failed to "raise him right" the first time around.

It begs an interesting, but pertinent, question: how many of those "free bail, criminal welfare" advocates would raise their own children in such a fashion? How many would actually give rewards for poor performance? Probably none, for the simple reason that they know in their heart of hearts that if they reward poor performance they will only get worse performance. And they also know that in doing so they will be driving the final nail in the coffin of that child ever enjoying the personal dignity that comes from taking responsibility for their actions, and thus their life. Call a bail agent, for goodness sake!

And yes, in case you are wondering, I am aware that there are those today who more loudly than ever protest that this secured release method, so long an integral part of our country's criminal justice system, is patently unfair and should be replaced by taxpayer-funded government "free bail" agencies. The fallacy of their argument is obvious in the claim of a recent federal court case filed against the City of San Francisco by a group of these anti-constitutional, government-sponsored bail advocates. According to a media report on the case, the plaintiffs clam in that suit: "The sole criterion determining whether a pretrial arrestee walks free or sits in jail is the amount of money he has." This remark not only establishes their goal (total elimination of secured release pending trial), but it demonstrates conclusively that their claim is founded in a gross misstatement of the true facts. San Francisco's spokesperson accurately responded, explaining that bail has two purposes: to protect the public's safety and to make sure that the accused returns to court as directed, and that judges have those two interests, and only those, in mind as they set the conditions of pretrial release.

That spokesperson is correct, and it has always been so in America. The Eighth Amendment to our constitution establishes that there should be bail, and as a safeguard it insists that the bail should not be set in conditions beyond those necessary to ensure those two critical underpinnings: public safety and justice system integrity. Chaos reigns in the absence of both these elements. Massive critical studies on the subject have long established, over and over again, that secured release is the only approach that guarantees, in the best possible way, both safety and compliance. Do we want those critical social assets to survive? Then call a bail agent.

I look forward to hearing your comments.

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